Monday, November 23, 2009

Framers Wanted

During our last visit, I suggested you and as many of your family, friends and like-minded acquaintances as you can muster, should seek out and confront the virulence that is Republicanism/Conservatism. I suggested an "in your face" style unwilling to meek out with typical Liberal "let's agree to disagree" posturing. What better time to do this than the upcoming holidays when families and friends and new acquaintances congregate. I'm sure every one of you have at least one relative who always manages to shut you up with his/her narrow-minded views. Time to change all that!

In other words, Time to kick out da mofo jams, People!

What follows is a very condensed, excerpted speech given by Cognitive Scientist/Semantic Linguist George Lakoff, Berkley professor. You should make his book, "The Political Mind" an absolute must-read. He and his colleagues have done extensive research into the role of metaphor on brain function and how concepts like "patriotic" can mean such diverse things to different people. Example: Patriotic to some, means having a responsibility to expose governmental malfeasance while, to another, patriotic means never questioning your government (unless, I guess, it's Democrat and/or presided over by a black man, in which case such questioning is patriotic.)

Boiled down, the theory holds that metaphors are energized by certain frames of reference. Once energized, the brain is reluctant to rewire. Every time thereafter a frame is triggered (e.g. see: stem cell, tax relief and war on terror, examples below) the brain reinforces the attachment to the metaphor used as trigger. To argue against such irrationality with facts is to go completely unheard.

Republicans/Conservatives use a bible of word usage created by wordsmith Frank Luntz that primarily engages the worst of Orwellian semantic manipulation to create whatever reality is most propitious to further the elite agenda of mo' money, mo' money, mo' money (and power, too). Witness a sampling of such lingual duplicity:

A frame is a conceptual structure, a way in which we think. Some of it has to do with language. Every word carries with it a conceptual structure and images to go with it. A simple example from the press: Tom Delay arguing against the bill to allow stem cell research. Notice the word before—embryonic stem cell research. What is the image of an embryo? Like a little baby. So who told the conservatives always to use the word? Frank Luntz, in the manual. Now The New York Times uses it, NPR uses it. Embryonic stem cell research. It has that image. What Delay said is that we are dismembering the embryos—tearing them apart. Actual stem cell research, if you check out the science, is done on what is called a blastocyst. It is 3 to 5 days old, a hollow sphere containing only stem cells, no blood cells, nerve cells, eye cells—nothing else, just undifferentiated stem cells in a hollow sphere. There's no dismemberment. That suggests there is something with limbs that you can tear off. You will not hear that on TV. They're not going to ask biologists to go on TV and say exactly what a blastocyst is. You're not going to see pictures of it. Instead you're going to hear about embryonic stem cell research and dismembering.

Framing carries with it an image. My favorite example is "tax relief." The first day Bush was in office he started talking about tax relief, and every day, tax relief, tax relief—it's repeated. And the word "relief" has a little frame. It says that taxes are an affliction; somebody's harmed by it. Then there's a hero who takes away this affliction, and anybody who tries to stop him is a bad guy. You add tax to that and you get taxation as an affliction and if anybody's against tax relief, they're bad guys. That's what tax relief says every time you hear the word, over and over. And what happens in your brain? One of the things we study in cognitive science—the synapses change. Every time that frame is activated, the synapses get stronger and stronger, until it becomes a permanent part of many people's brains.

Another example: something like 70% of the people who voted for Bush believed that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with the big 9/11 guy. Why? Frank Luntz put out a memo before the election saying, "Do not talk about the Iraq war. Don't mention the word Iraq. Say 'War on Terror'." Every time you see coverage of the war on Fox News, it says "War on Terror," until the two phrases form the same category. We think about them in the same frame. And vast numbers of Americans are assuming that what we're doing in Iraq is responding to 9/11. What do we learn from this? When your brain changes, when a frame enters your brain, it becomes a new common sense. And the facts hitting your common sense will be ignored. The facts will be trumped by the frames, explained away, not heard—once your brain changes. Now progressives believe in arguing with the facts. Why? It's important to understand this. The progressive movement had its start in the sixteen hundreds with the Enlightenment. The idea was that every single one of us, according to rationalist theory, has universal reason. No matter how rich or poor you are, you think the same way. And if you have universal reason, you don't have to listen to the king or the church. You can govern yourselves. An important idea for all progressives throughout history. Moreover, governments should be rational, and it's irrational to be against your material self-interest. Therefore, governments should govern to maximize the material self-interest of everybody. And facts matter. They are important for the realities of the world, and you should pay attention to science, look at the facts, look at prior reasons for the consequences. Governments should act in that way to help everybody. That is the birth of the liberal tradition. The pieces that are important. We can govern ourselves. We can think for ourselves. Material interests matter. We should work for the material interests of everybody. Facts matter; science matters. But there was a problem with the Enlightenment. It was a false theory of mind. It did not take framing into account. It did not notice that we think in terms of conceptual frames and we think metaphorically.

As is already clear, Republican/Conservatives have understood this phenomena and used it to propagandize the public into believing what's good for monied elites is good for the hoi polloi. The following focus on the "family" metaphor is extremely important in today's political discourse/understanding of issues:

There's also something called deep framing, having to do with the whole structure of the system of concepts we have. Concepts don't just come one by one, one word at a time. They fit together as a whole. And how they do is not obvious…If people have a number of views and they fit together, you can predict that there has to be something holding them together—some generalization. So I took it as a cognitive science problem. I made a list of what people were saying. I noticed that liberals and conservatives had different moral views and different language for morality. I made long lists of expressions. I would go out and interview liberals, and they would consistently tell me that conservatives were irrational. How is it possible for anybody to be "pro life" and for the death penalty? Then I talked to a few conservatives, and they said, "You liberals are immoral. You're irrational. How can you possibly not want to put a murderer to death and sanction abortion?" They saw it as an utter contradiction. And going down the list of issues, each side would see the other as irrational. When you see this as a cognitive scientist, you know what that means. Here are two different worldviews, and people are reasoning inside the worldviews, not in terms of universal logic or universal reason. This is not a matter of standard logic. It's a matter of reasoning a hermetically sealed worldview, which gives different inferences, these two worldviews.

I wondered why conservatives were talking about family values. What did they mean by that term? Out popped two notions: the nurturant parent family [Liberal/Democrat] and the strict father family [Conservative/Republican].

You need a strict father in this model, because there's evil in this world, and he has to protect you from evil. You need a strict father because of the competition in this world. There are going to be winners, and there will always be losers, always. If you want to be a winner, you need a strict father. It's important to the family. And—children are born bad and need a strict father to teach them right from wrong. There's an absolute right and an absolute wrong, and there's only one way to teach them. As James Dobson says: painful punishment. Punishment painful enough so they will have an incentive to discipline themselves, to take physical discipline and make it internal. He says that's the only way you create moral beings. And a lot of other right-wing child rearing books, in effect, said the same thing— children are born bad, they have to be disciplined. And discipline has a secondary effect: If they're disciplined and they pursue their self-interest, they can become prosperous, in this land of opportunity. And pursuing their self-interest, as Dobson points out, is good. It is part of free market capitalism. As Adam Smith said, If everybody pursues their own profit, the profit of all will be maximized, as a law of nature, by the invisible hand. Dobson writes that: this is what our country is about—the free market. Now what if you don't become prosperous? You obviously weren't disciplined enough. Or somebody was interfering with the free market. And there's a name for this in conservative thought. Anybody interfering is like government regulation. The idea of a free market is that you have to have an incentive (profit) and if you take away the incentive, you take away the reason to be disciplined enough to pursue the free market. Taking away the profit is called taxation. The good people, the moral people are those who are disciplined enough to pursue their self-interest and become wealthy.

Taxation is the punishment—taking away the just rewards. So it follows that if you are not disciplined enough to pursue your self-interests and become prosperous, then you're not disciplined enough to be moral, and you deserve your poverty. That's the logic. So what does this say politically about social programs? They are all immoral—every one of them. Immoral in 2 ways: they give people things they haven't earned and therefore take away the incentive to be disciplined enough to pursue their self-interest. And because they take away discipline, they make people immoral, unable to do right. Immoral in two ways. From the strict father point of view, all social programs can be eliminated, on moral grounds. That is what this administration has in mind. That's what our Congress and all of those think tanks have in mind, and that's what they write about. It's immoral.

From the notion of nurturance, every progressive value immediately follows. If you care about your children, then you identify and empathize with them and you want them to be protected. Fiercely. Who from? Crime, drugs, pollution, unscrupulous companies. All the things you need to protect children from. What does that mean in politics? First, it's the progressive idea of protective security: environmental protection, consumer protection, worker protection, all part of what we call total security. Second, if you care about your kids, you want them to be treated fairly and equally. Very important—fairness and equality are important values. If you care about your kids, you want them to be fulfilled in life, and they can't be fulfilled unless they're free—so freedom is a value. They can't be free if there's no opportunity, and there's no opportunity if there isn't general prosperity. So opportunity and prosperity become values. But you live in a community—what kind? The strict father model where a community leader tells you what to do? Or a nurturing community where you care about one another, do community service, are responsible to one another. And to serve the community, you have to cooperate. To cooperate you need trust. To trust you need honesty and openness. Those are progressive values. They all come from nurturance. It makes sense: from the larger social groups, states and nations, to the smaller—community and family

The way forward then, is to understand the battle (ergo my repeated harping on America's Stupid Factor). The battle isn't about facts, or rather, facts aren't what convinces the masses. "Common sense" and "morality" wins the day. The object is to first question the morality of the Conservative/Republican position by using metaphor (analogy) that is a common sense-type "story" that people can digest. Once swallowed, the frame is created and every subsequent use of the metaphor reinforces the frame.

The Democratic Party is stuck in the following way: it uses polls differently from Republicans. Republicans frame an issue their way, so people have to agree with it in terms of their framing, i.e., "Do you think the middle class should get more tax relief?" –yes or no? And a lot of people will say yes, and they release the poll and announce, "Americans are in favor of tax relief." That's the way to advance an agenda. Democrats will take the same poll, with Republican framing, and they'll say, "Gee, maybe we should be in favor of cutting taxes, too. Maybe we should move to where they are." But the point is not to go where they are, but to change them. So why are they missing the boat here? Remember rationalism? It's irrational to be against your own self-interest. So if voters think rationally, what we should do is ask them what their interest are, take the top six and run on that program. And they lose. Because voters are really voting their identity. They're going for someone who shares their values, whom they can trust, not necessarily in their self-interest. Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter with Kansas points out over and over again that people are voting against their self-interest. And they are. They're voting on their identity and their morality, and that's why Democrats are losing. They've got the wrong theory of the electorate.

Frank Luntz, their language man, put out a section on the environment. In it he discussed global warming, and this was leaked on the internet. In it, Luntz said, "The other side is winning, because they've got science on their side. But…we can turn it around. We can win through language. We can use words like 'healthy', 'clean', 'safe', when we talk about coal plants, nuclear power." You've heard the president (G.W. Bush) at his press conferences: "We need a nuclear power plant that is healthy, clean and safe." They name their environmental initiatives after those words—like "The Clear Skies Act," that increases pollution; "The Healthy Forest Act" that allows clear-cutting. Notice that they could not call it "The Dirty Skies Act." They could not call it "No Tree Left Behind." But we can. And should. They're using Orwellian language here, and they only do this when they're weak, when they do not have public approval. They know they're in the minority, and have to use substitute language to cover up their weakness. They have to use "The Death Tax" to make it look like it applies to everybody instead of just millionaires. They have to use "Partial Birth Abortion," giving a horrible image for an operation that doesn't exist. They have to use "Compassionate Conservative." And if they really were compassionate, they wouldn't need the adjective. When they use language to manipulate the people, they know they do not have public support. And in those cases we need to go right after them and say what you really believe from your own moral position. Powerfully, strongly. There is nothing stronger than nurturing, nothing more protective than a fierce nurturing parent. You have moral outrage and you should express it strongly, straightforwardly.

By way of example, say Uncle Fucker, fat from years of overconsumption, having done alright for himself in his business (via paying his workers minimum wage without benefits) starts off his typical anti-Democrat spewing as the giblet gravy drips off his double chins, "God damned Obama! Socialist! No doubt about it…" Family history has been for everyone to sit silent even as various members roll their eyes in hackneyed disgust (although carefully so as not to draw attention and, thus, Uncle's ire). Oh, there have been outbursts in the past from the younger members, being optimistic and great believers in fairness. But these disagreements have quickly escalated with Mother saying "Enough!" and displaying the evil eye so as to defuse the situation by quieting the effrontery. Even though Mother and Father may actually believe Uncle Fucker to be a pompous ass and totally self-serving, custom dictates that maintaining a sense of holiday decorum is more important. This blog is to move you to question that assumption. It is NOT better to remain quiet. It is NOT better to allow Uncle Fucker's frame of reference rule the dinner table discourse.

So, how does one go about challenging Uncle Fucker's frame? How about something like this: "Uncle, are you saying you approve of the massive trillion dollar Financial bailout? Giving all that taxpayer money to an elite few?" [CAUTION: First you better make sure someone knows how to apply the Heimlich Maneuver 'cause sure as shit Unc is gonna sputter and choke on it a bit.] He'll no doubt feel a trap and stutter something like, "Uh, hmmm…Th-There was no choice! Had to be done!"

You respond, "Well then, Uncle…That was and is a purely socialistic methodology applied. It socialized the cost of failure while doing absolutely nothing about the continued privatization of profits. It took the People's money and gave it to those who made obscene profits before they then gambled and lost. And, by the way, Uncle...that socialist give-away was perpetrated by a Conservative/Republican Administration."

As Conservatives/Republicans are wont to do, Uncle Fucker will no doubt jump directly [Do not pass GO but he'll still take the $200] into the Health Care controversy so as to spew his "facts" that are fabrications developed by the Insurance Industry and peddled as concern for the insured. First thing out of his mouth will be "Obama Health Care Bill." INTERRUPT him by stating there is no such thing and if Uncle Fucker thinks there is let him name it NOW! HR 3200, the bill that has cleared the hurdles in the House of Representatives and made its way to the Senate floor is the bill in question and Team Obama didn't write a single word of it!

Uncle will sputter, he'll huff and puff, and no doubt he'll jump right back into his litany of falsities, like, the "death panels" that'll decide if Grandma should live or die, or the "40 percent cut to heart and cancer specialists" which will decimate the field thereby putting Americans at greater risk of dying, or how you'll not be able to choose a doctor, etc etc.

You'll have to issue the "WHOA-WHOA-WHOA" to break the train of lies and distortions spewing forth. Hit Uncle Fucker with the facts (contained in prior blog re debunking health care lies/fabrications, the Conservatives for Patient Rights— CPR —fallacy, the Kaiser health news rebuttal to the 40 percent cut mythology, the tort reform benefit exaggeration, etc.) I mean, by the time you ratta-tat-tat that shit, ol' Uncle Fucker is gonna be chokin' on his bird!! And when Mama gives you the arch-browed, head wagging "ENOUGH!" you should calmly reply, "No, mother…It's about time people know the truth and not remain stupid to the reality of what's going on. It's the moral thing to do!" Remember to stress the Conservative/Republican misuse of information and not facts, their lying and not facts, their chicanery used, not the facts, per se. And, if all else fails, at least tell Uncle Fucker to go fuck himself for being such an immoral bastard!

Then, enjoy your pumpkin pie! You'll have earned it. Also, you might want to give thanks for having such a fine meal; remembering how many in the world are suffering to provide this meal to us, we, the empire's beneficiaries (as these scraps from the Capitalists' tables is a meal fit for kings and queens of the third world; the masses would be thankful for just a whiff of same.)

Whatever you do, keep on confronting the idiocy rampant in America where ever and whenever you come across it.